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Supreme Court throws Texas elections into disarray over district maps dispute

Updated at 11 p.m. EST

The Supreme Court late Friday blocked the use of Texas state legislative and congressional district maps that were drawn by federal judges to boost minorities' voting power, throwing election filings into limbo and likely causing a delay in spring voting.

The court issued a brief order Friday that applies to electoral maps drawn by federal judges in San Antonio for the Texas Legislature and Congress. The justices said they will hear arguments in the case on Jan. 9.

"This thrusts the Supreme Court right into the partisan thicket," Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, told The New York Times. "It is no exaggeration to say that with three or four additional Democratic seats at issue under the original court-drawn plan, the decision could help decide control of the House."

Reactions in Texas:

  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office appealed the case to the Supreme Court: "We understand the need for speed for Texas voters as well as those who wish to run for office and will work to resolve this matter as quickly as possible."
  • Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: The court's decision shows the federal judges in San Antonio "overreached and displayed judicial activism inconsistent with federal law and contrary to the intent of the Legislature."
  • State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, the leader of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, which participated in the San Antonio lawsuit: "Our resolve remains stronger than ever and our commitment to minority voting rights unwavering. If there ever was a textbook case of Voting Rights Act violations, this is it. We look forward to making our case before the United States Supreme Court." 

Guidance from top court
A Supreme Court decision likely also will provide guidance on the role of the federal courts under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Times said. Section 5 of the law requires Texas and other jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to seek federal permission to make even minor changes to voting procedures.

In the redistricting case, Texas says the federal judges overstepped their authority and should have taken into account the electoral maps that were drawn by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature.

The order brings to a halt filing for legislative and congressional primary elections that began Nov. 28.

The primaries had been scheduled to take place in March but with the Supreme Court's intervention, those elections almost certainly will be delayed.

The maps issued by the judges appeared to give Democrats a greater chance of winning seats in the state House and Senate than did the plans approved by those bodies and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

In addition, the court-drawn congressional map ensured minorities made up the majority in three additional Texas congressional districts, an outcome the judges said better reflected the growth in the state's Hispanic population.

Redistricting was necessary because Texas is adding four U.S. House seats based on population gains in the 2010 census.

Minorities currently are the majority in 10 of Texas' 32 congressional districts. The new court-drawn map would have raised that to 13 out of 36 districts, an outcome the judges said better reflected the growth in the state's Hispanic population.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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